The sign, wearing the look of a hoarding that’s been through many monsoons and in need of a fresh coat of paint, still stood out: MAX Cricket Academy of Sri Lanka.
Having heard of Sri Lanka's premier grooming centre and seen it on a few between-innings television shows, I was pleased to find out it was in a corner of the R Premadasa Stadium’s compounds. The academy, which started in 2003, has been consistently producing players over the years. The idea, borrowed from the Australian model, was to have an institution which Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) can use year round for development of talent.
Cricketers at the academy must be between 18-23 years. They are selected by the national selectors and sent here not only to hone and develop their talents, but also taught how to conduct themselves as cricketers. Aside from technical skills, the staff at the academy teaches aspiring cricketers about the benefits of nutrition, diet, etiquette and how to interact with the media. Certain batches have had the opportunity to learn computer studies. The academy also liaises with the national selectors about promising talent.
The premises includes a fully-equipped training center with high-quality turf nets, a gymnasium, seminar rooms and a dormitory.
Jerome Jayaratne, the head coach of the academy, who’s been associated with SLC for the last ten years, works with a staff of 25. He tells me that some of the academy’s graduates include Nuwan Kulasekara, Chamara Kapugedara, Upul Tharanga, Angelo Mathews and Dammika Prasad. The academy also sends staff to clinics across the country, aiming at developing the game at the districts and divisions. While it has no plans at the moment to send players overseas, the academy has hosted batches of youngsters from Nottinghamshire and Durham this year. The former Australia offspinner Ashley Mallett worked here during his stint as spin consultant.
Ishara Amerasinghe, the fast bowler who played one Test and a few ODIs for Sri Lanka, steps out of his car. He's had stints here and watches the Indians practice before going into the academy offices.
As the Indian team went through their net session, it was interesting to watch the local net bowlers helping out in practice. It's not everyday that one gets to bowl to international players. Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, gathered four enthusiasts and asked them what they bowl. There's a chinaman, a legspinner, and two eager fast bowlers. There is a language barrier but it is not a major hindrance and the bowlers are told to bowl to the Indians. A few try too hard, and are told by Prasad to focus on line and length rather than pace. One legspinner got some treatment from Suresh Raina, who looked very good as he timed the ball sweetly. The young lad grimaced every time Raina hammered him off the front foot.
This can only be a learning curve for the youngsters. Hopefully one day they will hit the big time.